Interview: Mother's Dumplings

Alison Martin tells us why she swapped media for markets.

When the “bonfire of the quangos” hit Teachers TV, media-type Alison Martin ended up on the street – albeit with the shelter of a market stall and a steaming hob to keep her warm.

For Alison decided to ditch the egos, budgets and bun-fighting of a life in television to do what she really loves – feeding people portions of tasty home-made comfort food.

Alison is one half of Mother’s Dumplings – a unique street food experience which has made Lower Marsh one of its many London homes.

Slow-cooked beef and Guinness stews, roast potatoes, free-range chicken with saffron and hazelnuts and of course dumplings are as much a part of the Mother’s Dumplings experience as Alison’s perpetual cheerfulness. 

In fact, despite her five-and-a-half to seven day weeks Alison said she could only be happier if it warmed up a little. And stopped raining. And got less windy.

Alison said: “My last ‘proper’ job was head of scheduling and acquisitions at Teachers TV, a fantastic and much loved TV channel and website that was aimed at helping to train the schools workforce. 

“It was sadly closed down by the coalition government as part of their ‘bonfire of the quangos’.  

“I took redundancy in 2010 and decided to have a crack at making a living doing what I love most – feeding people!  

“It was an incredibly steep learning curve – I hadn’t catered for more than eight people at a time before, and suddenly was having to prepare enough food for hundreds!

“Now I work with my partner-in-crime Karen Harper. She had a long career in TV too, but we both decided we were getting a bit old for the industry.  Although I suspect we’re now the oldest street food traders in town…”

It has not been all plain sailing for the novice traders.

Alison said: “On a very rainy day when I was still a rookie trader, I was trying to get rid of the water that had gathered in our canopy and managed to stand in exactly the wrong spot and dumped the whole lot on my head.  

“There were a few titters from other traders.  I then proceeded to have a go at the other side, and did exactly the same thing again.  I got a huge round of applause that time – from traders and punters alike.”

And despite the weather-led nature of the game – where profits can be severely eaten into by a cloudy sky - the pair have maintained true to their philosophy of buying only 100% quality ingredients such as British beef from their favourite butcher in East Dulwich. 

The taste has led to a growing following, with people often crossing the capital to catch Mother’s Dumplings at St Katharine Docks, North Cross Road and Cardinal Place markets as well as in Waterloo.

Celeb fans already include Sandi Toksvig, Ricky Grover, Jenny Éclair and Helen Lederer, and Alison said long-term plans may include a Mother’s Dumplings café.

We’ll start the petition to build it in Waterloo next month.

Mother’s Dumplings trade at Lower Marsh Market on Wednesday lunchtimes. You can read more about their food here and can follow them here.